I recently watched the documentary “The Artist is Present” about Marina Abramovic’s work at the MOMA in 2010. I had heard her name dropped a lot in my various performance classes. She is comparable in legend as her bodily harm performance counter part, Chris Burden.
It was a very interesting documentary to say the least. Though I can’t imagine what kind of picture it paints of the present art world to people who aren’t as familiar with contemporary art.
As someone who does some work in performance, I was super intrigued by her inviting her performers on a fast/retreat with her for a few days to try as an attempt and get her performers in the write head space. She took away their phones and did exercises with them to clear their heads. – – I find directing performers to be in my work very challenging. It’s hard to transfer everything you are thinking about your work to the people who are going to activate it and it’s not something you can do very quickly. Performers really need to spend time to get to know the work before they can activate it. However Marina was training them to be her, since they were re-performing her old work. Where as, I try to be open to new things that performers will bring to my work, it’s not about me so the prep process would probably be very different for me.
Her story and the timeline of her work progression was interesting. But I had a lot of thoughts about her staring piece. I felt like the piece seemed to be more about her use of her celebrity. If they had an unknown artist sitting in a chair all day for 3 months I doubt 750,000 people would come to sit across from them. I doubt countless of celebrities would ask for special tours of the exhibit. I also thought it was disappointing how secure the piece was . If anyone remotely deviated from the plan (for example one person put on some kind of mask) they were asked to leave. It was a VERY controlled performance, no room for change or growth. However it was intriguing to me just how much impact this piece seemed to make on a large variety of people. I wonder if people just do not connect as much as they need to with others, and need a moment to deeply star into someone’s eyes.
I have heard of all kinds of spoofs of this piece like artists staring at plants saying the plant is present etc.
Over all I think Marina really depends on the hype of her work for it to be successful, but she is one of those rare artists that reaches beyond the art-world into the general population.
This documentary could be worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.